The best deep purple since "Smoke on the Water." Photo: Steve Bender

The recent Memorial Day holiday got Grumpy thinking about a plant to fit the occasion. What better candidate could there be than one called "purple heart?" It's tough as nails and handles the worst abuse summer dishes out. Plus, if you're one of those people who craves purple in the garden, nothing does purple like the foliage of purple heart.

Formerly known as Setcresea pallida, purple heart (Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Heart') is a creeping perennial that grows about 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Spear-shaped leaves range from reddish-purple to nearly black. Light pink, three-petaled flowers appear in summer. It's winter-hardy in USDA Zones 7-11, dying to the ground with the first hard autumn freeze (except in the mildest zones) and reappearing the next spring. Don't worry about losing it if you live farther north. It's one of the easiest plants to root -- just stick a cutting in moist potting soil, no rooting powder needed -- so you can take a rooted cutting inside to a bright window and grow it on as a houseplant.

In the garden, purple heart makes a fine, seasonal ground cover or edging plant. Just trim it every once in a while to keep it in check and remove any discolored flower stalks. Its rambling habit also lends itself to being the "spiller" plant in window boxes, hanging baskets, and big containers. Try combining it with yellow, orange, and light pink foliage and flowers.

 

Purple heart and coleus. Photo:Rainyside.com

How To Grow A cousin to the less cold-hardy wandering jew, purple heart is virtually indestructible. Give it full sun for the best foliage color and well-drained soil. Summer heat and drought don't faze it. Deer don't usually either. You'll find it for sale now at most garden centers.

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